1 December 2017
Is your workplace killing your employees?
Many workplaces may expose employees to potentially dangerous biological agents. As part of an employer’s duty of care it is important to regularly check the levels of these compounds to ensure employees do not experience levels which may compromise their health. One of the most common compounds Clinical Labs tests for is Lead in the blood.
What is lead poisoning?
Lead is a highly toxic metal and a very strong poison. Lead poisoning is a serious and sometimes fatal condition. It occurs when lead builds up in the body. Lead poisoning usually occurs over a period of months or years. It can cause severe mental and physical impairment. Young children are most vulnerable. Lead poisoning can be treated, but any damage caused cannot be reversed.
What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?
Symptoms of lead poisoning are varied. They may affect many parts of the body. Most of the time, lead poisoning builds up slowly. It follows repeated exposures to small quantities of lead. Lead toxicity is rare after a single exposure or ingestion of lead.
Signs of repeated lead exposure include:
- abdominal pain
- sleep problems
- loss of appetite
- kidney dysfunction
A high, toxic dose of lead poisoning may result in emergency symptoms. These include:
- severe abdominal pain and cramping
- muscle weakness
- stumbling when walking
- encephalopathy, which manifests as confusion, coma, and seizures
If someone has symptoms of severe lead exposure, call emergency medical services.
What causes lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning occurs when it is ingested. Breathing in dust that contains lead can also cause it. You cannot smell or taste lead and it’s not visible to the naked eye.
Common sources of lead include:
- Paint made before 1978
- bullets, curtain weights, and fishing sinkers made of lead
- pipes and sink faucets, which can contaminate drinking water
- soil polluted by car exhaust or chipping house paint
- paint sets and art supplies
- jewelry, pottery, and lead figures
- storage batteries
How is lead poisoning diagnosed?
Lead poisoning is diagnosed with a blood lead test. This test is performed on a standard blood sample. Clinical Labs can provide personalised request forms and arrange on-site collection for your employees and our labs can provide results with 2-5 business days.
Lead is common in the environment. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reports that no amount of lead in the blood is safe. It is known that levels as low as 5 micrograms per deciliter can be associated with health problems.
Additional tests could include blood tests to look at the amount of iron storing cells in the blood, X-rays, and possibly a bone marrow biopsy.
How is lead poisoning treated?
The first step of treatment is to locate and remove the source of the lead. If it cannot be removed, it should be sealed. Call your local health department for information on how to remove lead. They can also help you reduce the likelihood of lead exposure.
In more severe cases, a procedure known as chelation therapy can be used. This treatment binds to lead that has accumulated in your body. The lead is then excreted in your urine.
Activated charcoal can be used to bind the lead in the gastrointestinal tract and encourage elimination via defecation. A chemical called EDTA may also be used
Even with treatment, it can be hard to reverse the effects of chronic exposure. Adults with moderate exposure usually recover without any complications.
How can lead poisoning be prevented?
Simple steps can help you prevent lead poisoning. These include:
- Perform regular workplace screening if risk of exposure if high
- Keep your workplace free from dust or encourage employees to wear face masks
- Test your water for lead. If lead levels are high, use a filtering device or drink bottled water.
- Clean faucets and aerators regularly.
- Make sure any contractor doing work in your house is certified in lead control.
- Use lead-free paint.
- Avoid areas where lead-based paint may have been used.
To book Blood Lead Testing for your workplace simply call 13 LABS
Resource: Cafasso J, 2016. Lead Poisoning. Healthline Newsletter< https://www.healthline.com/health/lead-poisoning#overview1